There is an emanation from the heart

which cannot be described,

but is immediately felt and puts

the stranger at his ease.

~Washington Irving


Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie


Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth.
~Rumi


May my life be like a great

hospitable tree, and may

weary wanderers find in

me a rest.

~John Henry Jowett


Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Little Women


"I am not afraid of storms, 
for I am learning how to sail my ship."
~Louisa May Alcott, Little Women


My very first edition
of Little Women.





This morning, when I read on one of my social media feeds that Little Women was first published on this day in 1868, it brought a flood of happy memories back. I bought this little abridged version during the summer of of 1966 on a family camping trip to New England. I had my allowance saved up and stored in my vacation purse, so when we stopped in Burlington, Vermont, I went straight to Woolworth's with my sister in search of treasures.




A cedar souvenir much like the
one I bought in Burlington, Vermont.

Even then I was a fast shopper, no hemming or hawing for me, and I chose my treasures immediately--this copy of Little Women, a little souvenir cedar box with Burlington, Vermont stamped on it, and a small, fringed, leather purse to put the rest of my meagre savings into. I can still smell the cedar box to this day and my first Little Women is lovingly tucked into a chest upstairs, somehow surviving 50 years and half that many moves.


When Mom and Dad were finished loading up with supplies for four (hungry, growing) kids at the Burlington A&P, and we had unloaded most of our vacation allowance at Burlington's Woolworth's and Dairy Queen, it was back to our campsite overlooking Lake Champlain. Camping right on the shore of Lake Champlain is one of the best memoires of my dad that I have, and you can read about that and his pancakes here.

It was rainy and stormy that afternoon, better for reading than for swimming, so I settled right into my sleeping bag at my end of our camper and started reading. One of our favourite games to play was 'Authors', and it was exciting to be able to actually read one of the books on an author's card.  Ivanhoe, The Deerhunter, and The Pickwick Papers were a mystery to me, but here I was reading Little Women. At one point I even used the Louisa May Alcott card as a bookmark, just so I could see her lovely, soft face as I read. I read and read and read that afternoon, listening to the soft lapping of the lake in the background, and now Lake Champlain and Little Women are forever bonded together in my mind.

So that summer of 1966, as we travelled from Michigan to New Hampshire, Vermont, and finally to Maine, I soaked up New England like a sponge, starting with Little Women. As I got older, I went on to read the full editions of Little Women, Little Men, and An Old Fashioned Girl, always crying my eyes out over Beth as we all have, wanting to throw snow balls and ice skate with Laurie, and to be a mom just like Marmee. In addition to Laura Ingalls Wilder from the plains of South Dakota, it's Jo, Meg, Beth, Amy and Marmee that I carry in my heart, mind and soul -- so that when some people who come stay with us in our English B&B say (sometimes disappointingly, sometimes just surprised) "Oh, you're AMERICAN", I stand tall, hold my head high, smile and say, "Yes I am!"

“I like good strong words that mean something…”
~Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Two of my treasured books
 published in London, in 1880.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Thank You Agatha For The Dreams

“It's what's in yourself that 
makes you happy or unhappy.” 
 ~Agatha Christie, 'A Murder is Announced'

Today I have to thank a very special woman who's enriched my life beyond measure--Agatha Christie. She was born on this day in 1890 in Torquay, Devon and because of her, I became a complete Anglophile at the age of twenty-two. I'm not going to lie and say it was the literature of Jane Austen or the Brontes' windswept prose that made me first long for England--it was good, old-fashioned murder mysteries, and especially Miss Marple.



Way back, longer than I'm going to admit, I was a very young bride, about to become a very, very young mother. We were living in Laramie, Wyoming at the time, attending the University of Wyoming where I was in nursing school and my children's father was working on a master's degree. Laramie is a sweet, quiet and leafy college town, with tree lined streets and an old Carnegie Library. We had absolutely no money, I had the summer off from classes, and I was desperately ill with morning sickness 24 hours a day. I needed something to occupy my mind so I read all day, every day, all summer long. The library had every Miss Marple mystery and as the summer and my pregnancy progressed, I worked my way through them.

Laramie's Carnegie Library is still standing.
You can watch thunderstorms approach
Laramie across the vast Great Plains.
We lived just a few blocks from the library and I remember walking down the street, elm trees providing leafy shade, the town quiet since most of the students were gone, and maybe a summer thunderstorm off in the distance. The library was my sanctuary that summer, as it always was growing up. Laramie's library had the lovely old book smell I remembered from my childhood libraries, which soothed my poor little, nausea-wracked body. Often I'd time my trip to the library with the afternoon thunderstorm, so I could sit and read in the soft, safe light of the library while the storm raged outside. Pure heaven.





With each book, I became more entranced with the English countryside, learned what a 'herbaceous border' was, and decided afternoon tea was just my cup of tea. It was a world of gardens, and trains, and little village post offices. Where people had hushed conversations and lightly brushed scone crumbs off their laps; where sensible shoes and gloves were essential, and you could post a letter in the morning which would be received that same afternoon.
 'One does see so much evil in a village,' 
murmured Miss Marple in an explanatory voice.
 ~Agatha Christie, 'The Body in the Library'

A village 'fete'.
That summer as my tummy grew and I went through pack after pack of Dentyne gum to keep the nausea at bay, I also learned a whole new vocabulary. I longed to go to a village 'fete' (pronounced 'fate'), was desperate to eat a slice of 'Victoria Sponge' cake, and thought listening to the 'wireless' at night sounded far more romantic than watching TV.


By August I no longer fit into my clothes and I was officially an Anglophile. I wanted to grow hollyhocks in my herbaceous border, meet my friends for afternoon tea, and have supper in a little village pub. I wanted to live in a thatched cottage, be married to a village vicar (sorry husband No. 1), and ride the train wearing gloves and a hat. Most of all I just wanted to go to England because I knew, just knew, it was where I belonged. I knew I'd fit into a place where gardens, and dogs, and country walks are what constitutes a happy life. I knew that the people who created the Victoria Sponge cake and took time out from gardening to have a mug of tea were my kind of people.




It took two more babies after my first baby, and 16 more years before I finally realized my dream, my daily/nightly/constant dream of 'going to England'. It was 1994 and I'm happy to say England didn't disappoint. It was everything I dreamed it would be back in the old library in Laramie, and it changed my life. From the day I first stepped foot in England I've never looked back. Of course since it isn't 1954, I don't ride the train wearing gloves and a hat and we don't sit by the wireless at night; and perhaps more importantly I've never witnessed a murder at a vicarage. 





But even better, I do live many of the things I imagined as I turned each page of each well-worn Miss Marple story. We do take long, countryside walks (in wellies) with our beloved dogs, we do have afternoon tea as often as possible (with as much Victoria Sponge as possible), and I do have an English garden with hollyhocks and hedgehogs (and chickens).




Sometimes dreams really do come true and thank you Agatha Christie for gifting me with those dreams. For Miss Jane Marple I am forever grateful. Happy Birthday Agatha.




Monday, 14 September 2015

September in a Castle Garden.

In the garden, Autumn is, indeed the crowning 
glory of the year, bringing us the fruition of 
months of thought and care and toil. 
And at no season, safe perhaps in Daffodil 
time, do we get such superb color effects 
as from August to November. 
 - Rose G. Kingsley, The Autumn Garden, 1905

A beautiful mixed border runs along the
 backdrop of an ancient wall at Broughton Castle.
Last Sunday Stuart and I, in great need of a little afternoon break, re-visited one of our favourite places in Oxfordshire, Broughton Castle, near Banbury. It was a spectacular September day, not still summer, but not yet fully autumn; the light soft, slanting through the trees. It was a perfect day to meander together through a castle and castle garden.

The air is different today the wind sings with a
 new tone sighing of changes coming the harvest
 gathered a flower, a nut some mead, and 
bread a candle and a prayer returning 
the fruits in thanksgiving to the grove
 and receiving it's blessing again.
- 'Rhawk', Alban Elfed

You might recognize Broughton's exterior from 
the movie 'Shakespeare in Love', the most recent 
'Jane Eyre', or 'Wolf Hall', where it played the 
part of Catherine of Aragon's home in exile. 
Broughton is a true castle, with a moat, castellations and battlements, and a gatehouse which at one time housed a drawbridge. Because the limestone in north Oxfordshire is a deeper bronze than most Cotswold limestone, Broughton gleams a deep and rich golden colour, especially with a blue, blue September sky behind it.

The back of Broughton Castle,
looking out over the gardens.

Our friend Susan with the current
Lord Saye, who will soon
celebrate his 95th birthday.
Broughton is the ancestral home of Lord and Lady Saye and Sele, who are also related to the actors Joseph and Ralph Fiennes. Stuart has known Lord and Lady Saye for many years (from his 'Spires & Shires' touring days), and I've been fortunate to meet them both several times. They are the very best of British aristocracy, as gracious, kind, and unassuming as their home is beautiful. They're always on hand, greeting guests, answering questions, and no one would guess they were the Lord and Lady of the castle. My American friend Susan, who's studying in Oxford at the moment, joined us on our afternoon at Broughton, and it was great fun to be able to introduce her to a real English lord.


We toured through Broughton's public rooms, seeing the now familiar sights of the great hall, the beautifully panelled dining room, and the long gallery. My favourite room is the 'room without ears', at the top of the house in the back. It's a room with four outside walls, which was used for secret meetings when spys might be lurking in Broughton's shadows. Broughton sided with the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, so a room without ears was crucial for scheming and strategizing against the king and crown. It's my favourite room because of the views--it looks down onto the Ladies' Garden, the borders and the countryside beyond the moat.

The 'room without ears' looks down 
onto the 'Ladies' Garden and beyond.
The moat still encircles Broughton. From the vantage point of the
roof you can see the gentle countryside surrounding the castle.

I was anxious to get outside to the gardens and they 
didn't disappoint.  As soon as we stepped out 
of the drawing room door, we were met with 
gentle grey stone steps lined with Chinese anemones. 


The steps lead out of the house from the 
drawing room and down into the walled 
Ladies' Garden. Windows along the north  wall
 let in the soft and dreamy early autumn light.


The last traces of summer roses remained
and the anemones were the last of the
summer pinks......


.........the rest of the colours were turning 
shades of gold to bronze, and russet.





The borders lining the walls of the Ladies' Garden
are a perfect English herbaceous border--artfully 
relaxed and an impressionist's blend of colours, 
textures and heights. At their peak, Broughton 
 employed 14 gardeners, while today
 they have just one (very lucky) gardener.


Benches are scattered throughout for 
sitting and taking in the sights and smells........

The greatest gift of the garden is the
 restoration of the five senses.
 ~Hanna Rion



Doorways and windows add to the 
backdrop, giving depth and mystery.

That's me hoping to get a glimpse of the little
 future Lord who belonged to the toy train engine.

We circled around the gardens, going back in and out of doorways, looking at it all from different vantage points, and each time noticing something new. A little wooden toy train of a future Lord Saye, just sitting on it's own in the grass, kept the garden real. It was also a good reminder that Broughton Castle has been a family home first and foremost since the 14th century and we're so grateful they open the doors and share the beauty and wonder of their home--especially on a perfect September afternoon.

The 14th century church stands on the grounds of
Broughton Castle and is a very active parish church still.
Just before we left the castle, Lady Saye slipped two admission tickets to Stuart instructing us to return again next year, so I have my heart set on visiting next June. It will be the peak of rose season and the height of romance, with cascades of blooms climbing walls and tumbling through the garden with reckless abandon. A castle garden, blooming with roses on a perfect June afternoon -- now that's the stuff of my winter dreams.

One of the most delightful things about a 
garden is the anticipation it provides. 
~W.E. Johns, The Passing Show


Broughton is now closed for the 2015 season, but will reopen in the spring of 2016, usually around Easter Sunday.

*Broughton Castle, Banbury, Oxon, OX15 5EB:
Broughton Castle is 2.5 miles from the centre of Banbury, 3 miles from Junction 11 of the M40. At Banbury Cross take the B4035 west signposted to Shipston on Stour then, after about two miles, turn right in Broughton village at the crossroads by the Saye & Sele Arms pub. At the bottom of the hill turn left into the drive. The car park is on your left before the Church.